First of all let me say, welcome back to the long-missed Iowa Bucket List. No need to fret about another hiatus. I’m back for the summer, and taking suggestions for new Iowa adventures.
But here’s a dilly of a vacation I’ve long-waited to post about: my trip to the Frank Lloyd Wright Hotel in Mason City, Iowa. I met up with my mom back in February to check out the famous location and have been saving all my witty comments while I crawled through my final semester of my undergraduate degree.
I wasn’t quite familiar with Wright’s architecture and so I managed to drive around the block it was located on about eight times before I figured out which building I was actually going to. To be fair, it’s connected to a bank. So as I circled the block, passing the signage and staring at each building for a giant sign proclaiming, “RIGHT HERE! FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT DESIGNED THIS ONE HERE,” I kept thinking, “Well, that building looks oldish but it’s a bank! Not a hotel!”
The building is pretty incredible, with a consistent and striking geometric design incorporated into the foundation, décor, and pretty much anywhere you lay your eyes.
According to the website the hotel was built by some hot-shot lawyers and “replaced the eye-sores on the corner of State Street and Federal Avenue.” I feel a sense of remorse for whoever designed those eye-sores because they never stood a chance. But without this hotel I’ll sheepishly admit I would never have had reason to visit Mason City, Iowa.
Speaking of which, despite hundreds of assurances from Iowa-born friends I would have literally zero fun to speak of in Mason City, mom and I really enjoyed ourselves.
We settled into our rooms to check them out. Frank Lloyd Wright was a very modern architect.
But seriously, the recently-renovated hotel preserved rooms originally built that you would never see in hotels today, including realistic time-period furniture and décor. Apparently, after serving as low-grade apartments the hotel was completely abandoned. Wright was a pretty big name in the designing world by this point, but his recognition for hotels didn’t seem to stick. According to the hotel’s website the “few hotels he’d designed had all disappeared, except for the Park Inn.” So almost as brilliantly as the design of the building itself, a local group made the decision to save the hotel. (Think of Park’s and Rec’s Leslie Knope tying herself to that gate to prevent the destruction of that historic gazebo … but more successful.)
A little research reveals Wright was kind of a skeeze (who knew, besides whoever authored the site’s info page …).
He started work on the hotel in 1908 and then like many contemporary celebrity scandals we love to gossip about Wright soiled his reputation when he ran off to Europe with some chick named Mamah who was the wife of a former client (did I mention Wright was married, with six kids?).
He spent two years in Europe. He came home in 1911 and started to work on a home for himself and Mamah (by the way, is this a creepy name or what? Some Freudian jokes are at work in my head). Wright still had a somewhat disgraced reputation.
Sadly, a crazy servant set the house on fire and proceeded to murder seven people with an axe. Mamah and her two children from her previous marriage were among the dead. The servant attempted to kill himself but failed. He was taken to jail and, despite medical attention, died seven weeks later of starvation.
Wright just kept on building after this. Then he briefly married Mariam Noel, brief here meaning three years. After that he met a Russian Dancer named Oligivanna who he married and spent the rest of his life with.
Wright designed more than 500 buildings (homes, museums, office buildings, hotels, churches, etc.).
The restoration of the hotel we stayed in, finished in 2011, cost $18 million.
Enough with the boring stuff, I’ll give you a little sneak peak of the hotel. And after this may I recommend Googling some of his other works. They’re all pretty awesome. When I marry rich I might considering buying up some of that Usonian works of Iowa brilliance. Disclaimer: FLW isn’t actually from Iowa. But since he voluntarily graced us with his presence I think they often just claim him.